Transcript: Sen. John McCain on CNN's 'Larry King Live'
KING: Joining us now from Phoenix, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. We haven't heard much from the senator in the last three weeks.
What do you make of all of this? MCCAIN: If it was a book, we wouldn't read it.
KING: Bad fiction, right?
MCCAIN: It's too bizarre. Bad fiction, too bizarre. Nobody would believe the plot. It couldn't -- wouldn't sell a thousand copies.
KING: What do you make of what your friend Senator Lieberman had to say?
MCCAIN: Well, I have the greatest affection and friendship with Joe Lieberman. I think he is one of the finest men that I've ever had the opportunity of serving with. I just don't agree with him.
I think that -- and by the way, I have great respect and admiration for the vice president. I've known him for 18 years. We were in the House together, we were in the Senate together, and we worked together on issues when he was vice president.
I just think that it's time we brought this process to a conclusion. I know it's tough. I think I know as well as most anyone having lost a campaign myself. But we've got to bring this to a close. The American people are very patient. This is no constitutional crisis, there's no panic. But the American people want it brought to a close. It's time we began this very difficult transition process, as we transfer power in the most powerful position in the world. And, I think it's got to come to end and I hope it's soon.
KING: If you were in the Gore-Lieberman position, though, might you have acted the way they are?
MCCAIN: Well, I hope not. I think that the ballots were counted, they were recounted. You know, Larry, we try to guarantee every citizen a free and fair election. But we don't guarantee a perfect election. There have been many, many elections where ballots were missing. There's famous stories about a certain state and city in the Midwest where it became an art form.
But, we do everything we can to make it as good and fair as possible. But if there are flaws in it, we try to correct those. But at the same time, we don't resort to litigation. Litigation, in my view, is not the way this drags out. We're looking at the way that we should approach it.
KING: How do you settle a dispute without a court?
MCCAIN: I think you recognize the verdict of the voters, and I think that if there is some blatant or egregious violation of law, obviously we go after that. But there have been other times in history where there have been incredibly close elections.
And I'm not -- not -- I am in sympathy with the vice president and Joe Lieberman. They won the majority of the popular vote. I can understand why they would be unhappy. But if -- there is so much on both sides, I've become confused at the number of lawsuits. I don't know what a pregnant chad is.
I think that Americans -- this is great fodder for the late shows and the comedians, but at a certain point it gets serious. We're looking at the date of December 12, when the electors will meet, and I'm afraid that litigation will not resolve this issue by that time.
KING: Do you know why, Senator, the partisan rhetoric on both sides has gotten so -- I mean, almost annoying to turn on the radio or watch television every day, to hear the screaming and the yelling and the invective?
MCCAIN: It's terribly disturbing and it's another reason why I think we need to bring this to a close. We're going to have to work together. The American people deserve better than what they've been getting, and they deserve a government and representatives who will work together. The longer this rhetoric -- words like stealing elections, and phrases like that I find very discomforting and I would hope that we would stop it.
And by the way, the people who have traveled down to Florida to demonstrate, I hope you can find something better to do.
KING: On both sides.
MCCAIN: On both sides.
KING: We'll be back with Senator John McCain, who always calls them as he sees them, and then former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Don't go away.
KING: By the way, Senator McCain, have you spoken with Governor Bush?
MCCAIN: Oh, yes, yes, several times, I've spoken to Governor Bush and he's very calm, he's very confident. And I did not, early on, think he should move forward with the transition, but I think the time is now of the essence and I think it's appropriate for him to move forward with this plans for the transition. And I think he's doing that.
KING: Do you think, in view of this, we'll not only see maybe campaign finance reform, but election reform?
MCCAIN: I do believe so. I think we're going to have hearings. I don't think we're going to change the fundamental electoral system that requires three-fourths of the states and small states are not going to agree to being excluded from the process.
But I do believe that we would eliminate this elector business. When I was elected to the Senate, the secretary of state certified the votes and sent it on. I think we could eliminate that, quote, "electoral portion," of it. But I would not change the system because I think small states need to have representation.
KING: How about standard kind of ballots?
MCCAIN: I think in Congress what we ought to look at is giving them money and funds to the poorer counties and cities and towns that can't afford or have a very low priority on their machines.
Out in California they had a touch screen technology, which they say works very well. So I think we in Congress can help these less wealthy areas of the country update and modernize their technology. I think we could do that and should.
KING: Now what do you think it's going to be like the next four years? Let's say we have a 50-50 Senate.
MCCAIN: We will have a 50-50 Senate. We, in the Senate, have to do business differently than we have in the past. Our leadership has to change dramatically, in that we have to include the Democrats. We have to -- they have half of the votes. And we have to act in a bipartisan fashion and we can't exclude them from the process. And I think the Senate will be better off for the experience.
I think we can go two ways. We can either have gridlock and everybody march in place until elections two years or four years from now, or we can recognize that the American people's message is, "Yes, we are split but we expect you to work together." I campaigned for the last four weeks for House candidates and some Senate candidates and others. The American people are tired of the partisan bickering.
MCCAIN: They want us to work together on issues that lend themselves -- they don't understand why we don't have a HMO patients' bill of rights. They don't understand why we don't have prescription drug program for seniors. They don't understand why we don't start to reform Social Security. And I think the American people deserve better than what they've been getting. And I think that's one of the messages of this election.
KING: And from what we've seen, though, do you expect -- and Senator Lieberman said he might expect it -- an aftermath of bitterness here?
MCCAIN: Well, I pray not. And that's why -- I think, why we've got to wind this thing down as quickly as possible. Because the longer it drags out, the worse the invective, and the more exacerbated relations become. But I would hope that we could -- once this is resolved and Governor Bush is the president of the United States, that we can put this behind us.
But Governor Bush has a -- has a well-known tradition of reaching across party lines. That was the way he conducted himself as governor of state of Texas and I have every confidence he will do that as president of the United States.
KING: And the big what if. What if it were reversed? What if Gore is president, would you say the same thing?
MCCAIN: Absolutely. And I'm confident that from the statements that the vice president has made and Joe just made on your show, they would include Republicans in the candidate -- excuse me in the -- in the Cabinet. And I think that they would, obviously, reach across the aisle. It's a matter of political necessity, and it's also a matter of patriotism.
KING: We know you would favor Colin Powell as secretary of state. He's going to meet with Governor Bush tomorrow. Would you want to be secretary of defense?
MCCAIN: No, I would not. Larry, I appreciate my name being mentioned. I feel I could be much more effective in the United States Senate. And I believe that the latitude that I'm allowed in the United States Senate, I can serve the country better. But I think the worst kept secret in America is Colin Powell as secretary of state. KING: I guess it is. And Condoleezza Rice as national security advisor; what do you think of that?
MCCAIN: Oh, she'll do a marvelous job. She have has great credentials. She's articulate. She's well rounded. And I think that you'll have the strongest team with Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell that we've had on foreign policy issues in a long, long time.
KING: Good seeing you, Senator. You're feeling well, I hope.
MCCAIN: Just great, thanks, Larry.
KING: Thanks. See you in Washington.
KING: Senator John McCain of Arizona coming to us from Phoenix.